China Aid Association
By Michael Abramowitz and Edward Cody
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 10, 2008; A12
(BEIJING — Aug. 10) President Bush is stepping up his public criticism of China’s human rights practices, adopting a more confrontational posture than he suggested he might take in the weeks leading up to the Olympic Games.
Bush said after a Sunday morning service at a government-authorized Protestant Church, “No state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion.” It was a clear reference to his concerns over the restrictions the Chinese authorities place on worship at churches that are not officially sanctioned.
The comments follow several days of repeated Bush references to the lack of liberties in China. At the opening of the new U.S. Embassy on Friday, he said societies that permit “the free expression of ideas” tend to be the most peaceful and prosperous. During his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush said he is using his time in Beijing to express “America’s deep concerns” about freedom and human rights in China.
“This trip has reaffirmed my belief that men and women who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China,” Bush said, adding that the United States had “made it clear that trusting their people with greater freedom is necessary for China to reach its full potential.”
Chinese authorities have responded coolly to Bush’s statements. Some U.S. officials have wondered whether Chinese anger with Bush is being expressed through low-level harassment of the presidential delegation to the Games. White House officials report a variety of conflicts with Chinese officials over the logistics of the president’s visit, such as security procedures for the presidential motorcade as it travels through Beijing.
Bush plans to meet later Sunday with President Hu Jintao and other senior Chinese leaders. Bush has indicated an intention to raise, as he says he always does, concerns about their human rights practices during these meetings.
Even as they criticize Bush’s comments as too little and too late, some human rights advocates have expressed surprise that he has been as vocal as he has, given his frequent assertion that he came here primarily to support and show “respect” for the Chinese people.
“He has been driven to be outspoken by the appalling prospect of his silence in the wake of worsening Chinese repression” in the weeks leading up the Games, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This was not the original game plan.”
White House aides say the president has always tried to balance his critique of China’s human rights practices with praise for its dramatic economic growth and cooperation on such issues as curbing nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. But they say Bush has tilted the balance in recent days.
One senior administration official involved in Asia policy said the president is speaking out because he has been disappointed by what he sees as China’s minimal response to his call for dialogue with the Dalai Lama about the future of Tibet and for greater tolerance of dissent.
The official pointed out that although the Chinese set up three special zones for protest during the Games, they have not permitted groups to use them.
“We’re not going to accept cosmetics,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities involved. Bush has always raised such issues privately with Chinese leaders, the official added, but “we’re trying to make it clear that they need to step it up.”
Bush’s appeals for greater political and religious freedom were made perhaps most forcefully in Bangkok on Thursday, just before he flew to Beijing.
The Bangkok address was effectively muted by Communist Party censors here and did not attract broad attention except among activists who read news on foreign-based Internet sites.
Most newspapers ran a small story from the government’s official New China News Agency reporting that the Foreign Ministry had denounced attempts to use human rights as a way to interfere in China’s internal affairs. The article mentioned in passing that the ministry was responding to Bush’s mention of human rights in China, but without detailing what he said.
Meanwhile, long-standing arrangements for handling the entry of White House officials and accompanying journalists were upended at the last minute. The White House unsuccessfully battled Chinese officials over whether the luggage of officials on Air Force One would be inspected. Meanwhile, reporters were kept on board their chartered plane for three hours while the White House worked out a compromise with officials on entry issues.
Some U.S. officials said they thought the logistical problems reflected divisions within the Chinese government, with Foreign Ministry officials supporting greater openness than the security services. Indeed, Hu appeared warm when he met Bush on Friday at a welcoming luncheon for about 80 world leaders.
Another controversy has been Bush’s decision to abide by Chinese restrictions and worship Sunday at the government-sanctioned Kuanjie Protestant Church, rather than at one of the “house churches,” which operate illegally. Officials said the White House had decided essentially to avoid provoking the Chinese even as Bush pressed his points about religious freedom. One official said that the church has been a known supporter of house churches.
Li Baiguang, an activist lawyer, said that during a meeting he had with Bush two years ago, the president expressed willingness to visit a house church. “If he would go, the power of house churches in China would grow,” Li said.
Still, Li said, even Bush’s visit to a state-sanctioned church helps the overall cause of religion in China because “that action will send a message to the Chinese government and the rest of the world that the United States regards religion as important.”
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